Sticky Situations | Mother-in-Law Musings

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We moms are all supposed to be on the same team, right? But what about those times when you catch another mom giving you a sideways judgy glance – whether it’s because you just let your toddler eat a cracker off the floor or your preschooler is getting bullied by a bigger kid and you step in to reprimand the offender? In this series we’re talking about these sticky situations…the ones where you feel like you might be breaking some sort of unspoken rule – if only you knew what it was! Help us solve these tricky questions in the comments – sound off with your own opinions and let’s get some discussion going!

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I have to admit that it really makes my skin crawl when every time I say I am going to visit my “in-laws” people tilt their head, do that weird “oh-I’m-so-sorry-for-you” smile and wish me luck.  I mean really, why do you always have to assume the worst?  The word “in-law” has such a bad connotation to it, and then when you go and put the word “mother” in front of it, it’s almost as if people are trying to whisper they are so afraid to say it.

Why do we tend to assume that everyone’s relationship with her mother-in-law is strained or challenging?

I think it might be because a lot of them are.

I can write in full confidence today because my relationship with my Mother-in-law is probably the best it has ever been.  (Read: we have come a long way, baby.) I am so thankful for who she is my life and 9 years after I married her son, I am truly blessed to call her my MIL.  When I got married this was not the case.  I was very young (23) and very insecure.  I desperately needed her approval and wanted her to think that I was doing a good job and that her son didn’t make a mistake.  I wanted her to think I was perfect for her son and a perfect new addition to their family.   These were unrealistic expectations on my part, and I know that now, but at the time I felt like I could never measure up and I was looking for her to fill my approval tank-, which was unfair.  This led to many frustrations and disappointments and a lot of stressful conversations.

I was falling right into the trap of thinking that I was going to have a poor relationship with my MIL because she was just that-a MIL.

I felt alone in my struggle because I couldn’t talk to my husband about my uncomfortable feelings around her because that hurt his feelings, it was after all still his Mama, and I was too ashamed to share with other married women because I felt for sure that they wouldn’t understand and tell me if I just got my act together it would be all better.  I found myself being judgmental toward each and every comment she made, not giving her the benefit of the doubt, and not looking forward to my time around my in-laws.  Our relationship wasn’t natural and would require work.

So was I stuck?  Would it be this way forever?

Thankfully, it wasn’t going to be this way forever because I was determined to do something about it.  I have the benefit of doing counseling with myself more than I need to, and through my professional knowledge, I realized that I had some issues that I needed to work through before I could be myself and be vulnerable with new family.  I did that work and then did the hardest thing for us to do in any strained relationship: COMMUNICATE.  I had to talk to her.  I had to share my heart and let her know my struggles and how I was interpreting her words and behaviors-even if she didn’t mean it that way.

This was our biggest problem, I was assuming she meant the worst and therefore caused me to distance myself.  My cold shoulder and lack of vulnerability toward her was then interpreted as a lack of desire for affection or affirmation so she just didn’t give it, because that’s what she thought I wanted.  We needed to talk openly and honestly and when we began to do that our walls came down.

Today, like I said earlier, our relationship is the best it has ever been, and I am so grateful that her love was unconditional and her patience allowed me to work through my own hurts and hang-up’s.   We communicate regularly and even though my in-laws live out of state we have the privilege of seeing them almost once a month. I am very thankful for this restoration.

Is your relationship with your MIL strained?  Do you find yourself constantly scrutinizing her every question, assuming she always thinks you could raise your children, cook a meal, clean your house, and love your husband better?  How do you handle it? Stuff it?  Get angry?  Maybe you don’t need therapy; maybe you just need to talk, vent?  I invite you to talk it out here, how can we help and what are you struggling to overcome in your relationship with her? Grab a cup of coffee and discuss…

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Tracy Carson is a Licensed Associate Professional Counselor, a wife to her Prince Charming whom she has been married to for 9 years and a Mom of two precious boys, 4 and 2.  Tracy has a passion for helping women feel beautiful inside and out and works hard in her faith based counseling practice, Professional Counseling Associates,  to encourage her clients to feel the freedom to be comfortable in their own skin.  She specializes in the treatment of eating disorders and counts it a privilege to come alongside of women as they overcome the stress that can come with new life transitions. Find her on the web at http://www.pcaaz.com

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Tracy Carson is a Licensed Associate Professional Counselor, a wife to her Prince Charming whom she has been married to for 10 years and a Mom of two precious boys, 5 and 3. Tracy has a passion for helping women feel beautiful inside and out and works hard in her faith based counseling practice, Professional Counseling Associates, (www.pcaaz.com) specializing in the treatment of women’s issues: especially anxiety, development, and eating disorders and counts it a privilege to come alongside of women as they overcome the stress that can come with new life transitions. When Tracy is not in her professional role, you can probably find her out running or trying to figure out how to incorporate the newest fashion trends into her wardrobe. Follow her on twitter @tkcarson

2 COMMENTS

  1. I definitely have this issue, but it’s the opposite way around…..I try to keep her happy, but unless we’re at her house every weekend doing what she wants, it doesn’t work. We don’t live that close, so it poses a problem as their house isn’t the least bit child proof, and has no crib. We invite them up , which seems to be nice, but more often than not, they reply, “we’re busy”, ” we need two weeks notice”, “or you’re really far, why don’t you come down here?”…..When they don’t tell us about family gatherings until one or two days before the event, and then get mad if we already have plans. And trust me, my hubby and I repeatedly try to explain we need some notice, and traveling with a little guy is tough, but they don’t seem to get it. 🙁 We’re all friendly, but it’s superficial. I know it is. His brothers tell me how she complains, but when I confront her, she says she’s happy….. There’s some drama with a brother who “cheated” on his wife, and is with the new wife, and both come to the family events with weirdness, which makes us feel uncomfortable. Honestly, as a daughter of a father who cheated on my mom, I don’t want anything to do with the mistress turned wife. She and I are fine with our arrangement. We say polite “hellos”, but that’s as far as it goes…my MIL/FIL don’t like that it doesn’t “look” good that we don’t hang out, so she tries to force my hubby and I into awkward situations with her. We have confronted them, they either deny it or skirt the issue (even his bro confronted them)….So I gave up…..Is there hope, or should we just sign up for Jerry Springer?

    • Kim-I wish I had ENcouraging words but I just came from a DIScouraging (and not to mention expensive) trip to visit our families and right now I have nothing nice to say either! 😉 It doesn’t matter how much we have talked to my MIL, she just cannot keep her trap shut! :/

      I appreciate this post and hope it helps others but we (my husband and I) HAVE communicated with my MIL but it seems nothing has changed. Totally bummed… 🙁

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